If you live long enough, you will likely discover that life takes us through stages designed to produce the maturity we are urged to attain as Christians. At the core of the process are the people we encounter along the way. Some become examples and encouragers, leaving indelible imprints that increase in value with time and experience. Then there are those who might be categorized as friends, acquaintances, or people you’d rather forget. Yes, even some of our Christian brothers and sisters enhance our growth by giving us strife and controversy; and over time, one learns that with spiritual growth comes the knowledge that no one is perfect. That’s just the way life is.
However, sometimes we are touched by a few saints whose friendships we treasure and who exemplify the best of what being a Christian is about. They may be few in number, but they are there; and we are the better for it.
Looking back, I’ve been privileged to meet some exceedingly extraordinary people who have enriched my life and immeasurably influenced the course of my personal ministry. Most of them have not stood in the white lights of popularity or fame. In fact, most have names you’ve probably never heard. But they are there, nonetheless.
I’ve told the story of our Zvi, whose experiences many of you read regularly in this publication and in the biography on his life, Zvi: The Miraculous Story of Triumph Over the Holocaust. So extraordinary has his life been, from a war-wracked childhood in Hitler’s Europe to an exemplary life on the streets of Jerusalem, that some have questioned the truth of his story. Yet truth is often stranger than fiction. I’ve walked through Zvi’s life and certified the facts through the testimonies of individuals from the Knesset to the Israeli army to the back alleys of Jerusalem. The result being that a man deprived of academic credentials and status in this world’s self-absorbed race to riches has truly influenced, by life and example, thousands of people. And, thankfully, his story is not yet fully written.
It was Victor and Lydia Buksbazen, another pair of extraordinary people, who introduced me to the story of Zvi and his family. For 33 years the Buksbazens led The Friends of Israel (FOI) in a compassionate, biblical, and relief-oriented ministry that reached out to Jewish and Gentile people alike. And through their unselfish self-sacrifice, FOI today reaches millions around the world. You’ll hear more of their story in our next issue when we celebrate The Friends of Israel at 70.
Every time I walk down the Street of the Righteous Gentiles at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, I am acutely aware of journeying through a veritable memorial to seminally extraordinary people. The names on the plaques beneath the shading carob trees are virtually all unknown to me—strange names with an array of befuddling consonants. But two are familiar, and I never fail to stand before them for a bit and think of what they represent.
Fresh flowers, neatly bunched, always adorn the tiny plaque memorializing Oskar Schindler. The German industrialist was popularized in book and film because he literally purchased 1,200 Jewish men, women, and children from the Nazis during the Holocaust. Far up the street is the inscribed tribute to Corrie ten Boom who, along with her family, willingly risked everything to rescue Jewish people being hunted by agents of the megalomanic Adolf Hitler.
A name that, in all probability, will never be numbered among those at Yad Vashem belongs to a woman who is, in every sense of the word, extraordinary. Her name is Halina, known for years here at FOI as Mrs. Alice because of the Communist threat to Christians in Poland during the Russian occupation following World War II. She still prefers that we do not use her full name. Halina lived through Hitler’s rampage of terror from 1939 until 1945 with two missions in mind: (1) to liberate her beloved Poland from the Germans and (2) to help Jewish people survive the Nazi campaign of annihilation.
During the war she served as a nurse, helped scores of Jewish people escape the Germans, was a member of the Polish underground resistance, served in the Polish uprising against the Nazis, and was held as a prisoner of war after the collapse of the resistance. In her heroism through wearying years of hunger, personal deprivation, and daily danger of death, Halina stood as a model of Christian fortitude and commitment to the truth while everything around her seemed to be held by Satan. She could never be accused of forgetting the Polish people (her brother was killed by the Nazis), her country, or the suffering of the Jewish people.
Years after the war Halina tells of joining Jewish organizations that came to Warsaw from many countries to commemorate the heroic 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Famous Jewish sculptor Nathan Rappaport crafted a monument that was unveiled in 1948 in the former Jewish ghetto. It was made from stone originally quarried for a Nazi victory monument. Each block commemorates an individual or event in the ghetto.
“People who do not know the Bible,” Halina observes, “look at it and do not understand the meaning. For me, it is very clear. The monument represents a huge furnace. In the middle of the furnace we could see an opening. And in the opening we could see flames of stone, and among the flames we saw a young woman with a baby in her arms. We could also see two young, brave warriors looking upward, not afraid, with courage on their countenances.
“As I looked on their faces, seeing their eyes looking up, I remembered Psalm 121: ‘From whence comes my help?’ The answer is, ‘From above.’ And so it seemed to me that these young warriors in the flames were looking to the God of Israel. From Him only could help come for their nation. This remarkable monument shows the undaunted spirit of the Jewish people and their hope, which nothing could extinguish.
“This memorial, for me, was the most significant and beautiful monument of all that I saw after the war. And as I stood in front of the sculpture, awaiting the celebration of the Jewish Uprising, a thought came to me. Why was this blood shed by Jewish people and the ashes left by the crematoria where millions were burned to death in vain? And why was it necessary? Why would God permit this terrible slaughter of innocent people?
“Then, as we came to lay our wreaths as the Gentile friends of Israel beside those of the Jewish organizations, the answer came to me: Because the conscience of the world is so hard. And I understood. It was not God, but the inherent evil in the hearts of depraved men who brought the slaughter about.”
Halina’s message is the lesson for us all. Vicious, persistent anti-Semitism is a manifestation of the satanic obsession to destroy God’s Chosen People. The faces of the perpetrators are many, but every one of them is driven by the same master and devoted to the same cause.
Yet God raised up extraordinary people, some whose names we will never know. Those who witnessed their deeds, however, leave a legacy of courage and determination that seems to be missing in the affluent West’s current moral morass and passion to forget.
There was the man from Praga who managed to secure work in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. His reward was a life-sustaining bowl of soup for his efforts. One day, driven by a rash act of compassion, he accepted a newborn baby from a mother whose life was destined to end in the gas chamber. How to get the child past the ghetto guards was a problem he solved by placing the baby in a large suitcase he carried to and from his work. Fortunately, the baby slept and was taken into his home. The man completed this dangerous mission repeatedly, and today the beneficiaries of his courage revere his memory.
Then there was a 14-year-old Jewish girl who was hidden in a pigsty while her parents received safe haven in another town. She had such a desire to see her parents that she ventured out one day in an attempt to find them. On her way back, she was discovered by a group of Polish boys who immediately began to cry out, “Jude, Jude!” (Jew, Jew!), which meant her swift and painful death if the authorities arrived.
The horrified girl knew that to run back to her benefactors might mean their discovery and arrest. Fortunately, at an intersection outside the town stood a large cross. Without understanding the full import of her actions, the girl cried out, “Jesus, Jesus, help me!” When the boys heard her calling on Jesus for help, they left her. And she returned to the pigsty and lived there until the end of the war.
In another instance, a courageous Polish couple dug out an area under their kitchen floor to provide a hiding place for Jewish families. Whenever the Gestapo was in the area, the Jewish people would slip into the dugout and wait until the danger passed. One day suspicious agents entered the house accompanied by a large German shepherd trained to sniff out secret places where Jewish people were hiding. Fortunately, the couple had a small dog that drew the attention of the German shepherd. When the Gestapo dog approached the little pooch, the spaniel bolted and ran out of the house with the police dog in hot pursuit. So the search ended, and both the Polish family and Jewish fugitives were saved.
Such stories are endless. People were secreted in boxes built under coal bins, behind false walls hiding refuge rooms, and in other ingeniously designed hiding places. Hundreds of Gentiles, many of whom were Christians, willingly faced death to save Jewish people. These are the faces of the extraordinary coming to us as examples of courage and doing the right thing at the right time.
Why did they do it? A gutsy little nun was asked that question when someone observed that she had not been awarded a medal by the Yad Vashem Memorial. “We were saving lives not for a reward,” she answered. “We did not want any reward. It was far too dangerous to do it for a reward. We wanted to save lives, and God helped us to do it.” It was as simple as that.
You may have read of my interview with a prominent Jewish senator years ago. When I asked how he felt about possible persecution in America, this was his comment: “Elwood, I believe that every Jew from time to time looks around at his circle of friends and associates and asks himself a question: If an Adolf Hitler would rise in America, who among these people would give me a place to hide?”
Now, let me ask you a question. As a Christian in a world where rising antievangelical militancy may soon threaten your safety, who in your circle of friends would give you a place to hide? Perhaps it’s time we asked God to raise up extraordinary people.